Occupy Poetry! Starting the New Year with Inspiring Words

I have two New Year’s Day traditions. Having been raised in Alabama, I stir up a batch of black-eyed peas to share with my friends. Southern tradition says the legumes bring good luck in the coming year. Then about four o’clock in the afternoon, I head to the East Village’s historic St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery for the Poetry Project’s Annual New Year’s Day Marathon Reading. Since 1974 when Anne Waldman gathered 31 poets in the sanctuary for the first marathon, poets, musicians, singers-songwriters, dancers, and other performers have celebrated the new year and raised money for the Poetry Project’s 80-plus reading programs. Past participants have included such luminaries as Allen Ginsburg, Jim Carroll, Spalding Gray, Eric Bogosian, Patti Smith, Suzanne Vega, Steve Earle, and Yoko Ono, but struggling, unpublished poets are welcome too.

What I enjoy about this event is its democracy, casualness, affordability, and friendly inclusiveness, a far cry from the overpriced hype of New Year’s Eve festivities. Once you pay the $20 admission and your hand is stamped, you can come and go as you please. Stay for an hour, go out to Veselka‘s for a quick bowl of borscht or browse the small press tables in a backroom, and return for the finale, which this year came at 1:30 am, about an hour and a half behind schedule (that is an annual tradition, too!). I like the diversity of the audience, from self-conscious hipsters in porkpie hats and young families with toddlers in tow to defiantly aging hippies and elderly eccentrics who don’t give a s–t anymore.

The readings range from poems of whimsy to angry rants about the current state of the world. When Jim Carroll died in 2009, poets celebrated the author’s literary legacy. This year the Occupy Wall Street movement was on many performers’ minds. Whatever the quality of the poetry (some poems are sublime, others less so), I usually hang in for about three hours, basking in the warm communal glow. Inspired and exhilarated, I walk home in the cold dark ready to tackle whatever challenges the newborn year throws my way. Happy 2012, everyone!

Wilda Williams About Wilda Williams

Wilda "Willy" Williams (wwilliams@mediasourceinc.com) is LJ's Fiction Editor. She specializes in popular fiction and edits the Mystery, Science Fiction, Christian Fiction, and Word on Street Lit columns.